Saturday, June 30, 2012

Last call

I have touched on this point a number of times on this blog over the years, and have long been meaning to get around to a full post on the topic... but this isn't it. Maybe soon.

Oh, all right then, I'll have a go at covering it briefly here.

In essence, although there are many things I like about the unfetteredness - and the occasional exhilarating extremities into which that may lead one - of the 'no closing time' regime we have in China, I do, on the whole, prefer the culture in which I grew up, where there is a clear distinction between the hours of drinking and the hours of not, and you have to take a little care to structure your evening around the unalterable fact that at 11pm or 12am or thereabouts there'll be nothing more for you to do and you might as well go home. It is an entirely reasonable and unobjectionable restriction, one that conduces to one's health and happiness by providing more sleep, a better balanced lifestyle, and a less painful and more productive working day on the morrow.

Also, of course, there's a particular poignancy about the last drink of the evening. And a camaraderie of shared experience, with so many people being turfed out on to the street at the same time.

There is heated debate as to whether restricted opening hours and an early closing time increase or decrease the problems of overindulgence and drunkenness. I imagine it operates rather differently for different people, but my general observation has been that, while one might overall drink more if one is able to carry on until 2am or 3am or 4am, the drunkenness is usually no worse, if anything a little better. At least, that's how it is with me: if I know I'm going to be in for a long - indefinite - haul, I find the pace at which I can drink fairly comfortably all night without getting too hammered (it's the equivalent of the 'forever pace' I look for in my running, the speed at which I can go on gentle exploratory runs in new environments, secure in the knowledge that however far I may stray and however lost I may get, I'll be able to keep on running until I reach home again).

Alas, not everyone is such a cultured and experienced drinker as myself; many people get terribly sloppy if they try to keep going into the early hours of the morning. I've come across a few people who just don't know when to stop - unless the barman is telling them to. However, I think binge-drinking is probably far more of a problem with the fixed closing time: people tend to rush their drinks, to try and get as much in as possible in the limited time available to them, especially in the last hour before the dread bell rings to mark the close of the evening. I am a little prone to that vice myself, but at least I have the compensation that I'm home in bed by a sensible time, and so have more opportunity for recovery before work the next day, should I need it (hangovers have never been a problem for me, but my operational effectiveness can be severely compromised by inadequate sleep).

Ah, but the combination of rushing your last few drinks and that subtle surge of melancholia you feel because the evening is being brought to an end a little before you might have wished, and the fact that this is an experience shared with numbers of other drinkers you may know little or not at all... well, that leads once in a while to the other well-known 'closing time' phenomenon of the abbreviated love affair - where you may suddenly become smitten with a companion at the bar, strike up a conversation, discover apparent sympathies and compatibilities, and head home together, all within the space of an hour or less, perhaps in only a few minutes, that oh-so-dangerous period just before the bell rings.

So, for this weekend's musical treat, I give you two songs on this theme. The first is by a short-lived Minnesotan indie rock outfit called Semisonic (BAD band name, which may explain why they only managed to put out three albums before fading from sight), of whom I knew/know next to nothing. However, I have grown to rather like this one song of theirs, Closing Time, since it was one of the most regular fixtures of the old 12 Square Metres playlist, one that I only narrowly (well, I just forgot about it, to be honest) omitted from this roundup of the overplayed favourites that we were starting to miss after JK's departure.

The second is an even older and dearer favourite, a classic piece of early Tom Waits, I Hope That I Don't Fall In Love With You. Until recently it hadn't been available on YouTube. I mentioned it in one of my early posts on this blog, but had to content myself with publishing the lyrics only. However, I've just turned up a rather fine live version of it that I'd not heard before. "Last call for drinks. I'll have another stout."

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